Television and Video Camera Operator and Editor Careers

Significant Points

  • Keen competition for jobs is expected due to the large number of people who wish to enter the broadcasting and motion picture industries.
  • Opportunities will be best for those with a bachelor's degree or postsecondary training.

Nature of the Work

Television, video, and motion picture camera operators produce images that tell a story, inform or entertain an audience, or record an event. Film and video editors edit soundtracks, film, and video for the motion picture, cable, and broadcast television industries. Some camera operators do their own editing.

Camera operators use television, video, or motion picture cameras to shoot a wide range of material, including television series, studio programs, news and sporting events, music videos, motion pictures, documentaries, and training sessions. This material is constructed from many different shots by film and video editors. With the increase in digital technology, the editing work is now done on a computer. Many camera operators and editors are employed by independent television stations; local affiliate stations of television networks; large cable and television networks; or smaller, independent production companies.

Making commercial-quality movies and video programs requires technical expertise and creativity. Producing successful images requires choosing and presenting interesting material, selecting appropriate equipment, and applying a steady hand to ensure smooth, natural movement of the camera.

Videographers film or videotape private ceremonies and special events, such as weddings. Some record and post short videos on Web sites for businesses. Studio camera operators work in a broadcast studio and usually videotape their subjects from a fixed position. News camera operators, also called electronic news-gathering (ENG) operators, work as part of a reporting team, following newsworthy events as they unfold. To capture live events, they must anticipate the action and act quickly. ENG operators sometimes edit raw footage on the spot for relay to a television affiliate for broadcast.

Camera operators employed in the entertainment field use motion picture cameras to film movies, television programs, and commercials. Those who film motion pictures also are known as cinematographers. Some specialize in filming cartoons or special effects. Cinematographers may be an integral part of the action, using cameras in any of several different mounts. For example, the camera can be stationary and shoot whatever passes in front of the lens, or it can be mounted on a track, with the camera operator responsible for shooting the scene from different angles or directions. Wider use of digital cameras has enhanced the number of angles and the clarity that a camera operator can provide. Other camera operators sit on cranes and follow the action while crane operators move them into position. Steadicam operators mount a harness and carry the camera on their shoulders to provide a clear picture while they move about the action. Camera operators who work in the entertainment field often meet with a director of photography to discuss ways of filming, editing, and improving scenes.

Work environment. ENG operators and those who cover major events, such as conventions or sporting events, frequently travel locally and stay overnight or travel to distant places for longer periods. Camera operators filming television programs or motion pictures may travel to film on location.

Some camera operators-especially ENG operators covering accidents, natural disasters, civil unrest, or military conflicts-work in uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings; however the occupation as a whole does not tend to suffer more work related injuries than other occupations. Many camera operators must wait long hours in all kinds of weather for an event to take place and must stand or walk for long periods while carrying heavy equipment. ENG operators often work under strict deadlines.

Hours of work and working schedules for camera operators and editors vary considerably. Those employed by television and cable networks or advertising agencies may work long hours to meet production schedules. ENG operators often work long, irregular hours and must be available to work on short notice. Camera operators and editors working in motion picture production also may work long, irregular hours.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors usually acquire their skills through formal postsecondary training at film schools, colleges, universities, or photographic institutes. A bachelor's degree is required for most positions. Employers usually seek applicants with a good eye, imagination, and creativity, as well as a good technical understanding of how the camera operates.

Education and training. Many universities, community and junior colleges, and private trade and technical schools offer courses in camera operation and videography. Basic courses cover equipment, processes, and techniques. It is very important for camera operators to have a good understanding of computer technology and knowledge of digital cameras. Bachelor's degree programs, especially those including business courses, provide a well-rounded education. Film schools also may provide training on the artistic aspects of filmmaking.

Individuals interested in camera operations should subscribe to videographic newsletters and magazines, join audio-video clubs, and seek summer or part-time employment in cable and television networks, motion picture studios, or camera and video stores.

To enter the occupation, many camera operators first become production assistants, to learn how film and video production works. In entry-level jobs they learn to set up lights, cameras, and other equipment. They also may receive routine assignments requiring adjustments to their cameras or decisions on what subject matter to capture. Camera operators in the film and television industries usually are hired for a project on the basis of recommendations from individuals such as producers, directors of photography, and camera assistants from previous projects or through interviews with the producer. A good professional reputation is important in finding employment. ENG and studio camera operators who work for television affiliates usually start in small markets to gain experience.

Other qualifications. Camera operators need good eyesight, artistic ability, and hand-eye coordination. They should be patient, accurate, and detail oriented. Camera operators also should have good communication skills and, if needed, the ability to hold a camera by hand for extended periods.

Camera operators who run their own businesses or do freelance work need business skills as well as talent. These individuals must know how to submit bids, write contracts, get permission to shoot on locations that normally are not open to the public, obtain legal permission to use film or tape of people, price their services, secure copyright protection for their work, and keep financial records.

Advancement. With experience, operators may advance to more demanding assignments or to positions with larger or network television stations. Advancement for ENG operators may mean moving to larger media markets. Other camera operators and editors may become directors of photography for movie studios, advertising agencies, or television programs. Some teach at technical schools, film schools, or universities.

Job Outlook

Keen competition for jobs is expected due to the large number of people who wish to enter the broadcasting and motion picture industries, in which many camera operators and editors are employed. Those with the most experience and the most advanced computer skills will have the best job opportunities. Employment is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment change. Employment of camera operators and editors is expected to grow 11 percent over the 2008-18 decade, which is as fast as the average for all occupations through 2018. As the motion picture industry expands, demand for camera operators and editors will expand also. Camera operators will be needed to film made-for-Internet broadcasts, such as music videos, digital movies, sports features, and general entertainment programming. As the market for professional Internet video grows, camera operators may see increases in employment. Growth will be tempered, however, by the increased offshore production of motion pictures. Job growth for studio camera operators in television broadcasting will be slowed by the use of automated cameras under the control of a single person working either on the studio floor or in a director's booth. For ENG camera operators and editors, growth may be tempered by the combination of roles and other cost-cutting measures at broadcast stations. For videographers, computer and Internet services will provide new outlets for interactive productions.

Job prospects. Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors can expect keen competition for job openings because of the large number of people who wish to enter the broadcasting and motion picture industries, in which many of these workers are employed. The number of individuals interested in positions as videographers and movie camera operators usually is much greater than the number of openings. Those who succeed in landing a salaried job or attracting enough work to earn a living by freelancing are likely to be the most creative and highly motivated people, able to adapt to rapidly changing technologies and adept at operating a business. The change to digital cameras has increased the importance of strong computer skills. Those with the most experience and the most advanced computer skills will have the best job opportunities.